Why is Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak on my best 1,000 albums ever list?
It’s complicated… but with this Kanye album, something broke through for me.
What does Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak mean to me? What does it make me feel? Why is it exciting or compelling?
This one was really tricky for me. And by “one,” I really mean Kanye West.
808s and Heartbreak is the only Kanye album you’ll find on the best 1,000 albums ever project – something I typically won’t signal “ahead” of time (in terms of the publishing schedule), but I think it’s useful to do so here.
Kanye West obviously has a large footprint in the music and pop culture landscape at the time of this writing in early 2022. Dialing back to 2008 or so and earlier in Kanye’s career, I had generally positive feelings about him as an artist. A big reason why was (and is) that I greatly enjoy the song “American Boy,” credited to Estelle and featuring West. It’s a great upbeat and catchy pop song with seamless and exceptional hip hop verses from Kanye. This was always a fun one to have on my mp3 player at the gym during that era.
In the intervening years, things got… well, they got weird, right?
Going back even further, of course, Kanye conveyed that he had no problem going on live television and speaking… exactly what was on his mind.
Major case in point: Kanye explaining his exact thoughts about then President George W. Bush during a Red Cross fundraiser, with a miserable-looking Mike Myers at his side. (Is it relevant to my feelings that many years later Kanye for a time openly mused about running for president before siding with supporting President Donald Trump? Yes. Yes it is.)
Fast forwarding to 2009, we get another “viral” moment, this time fully bred out of ego, however well intentioned. Yes, it’s the infamous “I’m a let you finish” moment from the 2009 Video Music Awards.
There are many other examples, of course. I bring this up because at some point it’s natural for my feelings about an artist to bleed into the creations that that artist produces. Which is to say that while I believe that Kanye West is massively talented, he’s also often massively misguided. And if it’s mental healthcare that he needs, I truly hope he seeks it out and gets better.
But getting back to West’s musical output and the best 1,000 albums ever project, I really tried hard to separate my feelings about Kanye West as a person and his musical output. I spent time with his entire catalog. And honestly I wasn’t that turned on by most of it.
But with 808s and Heartbreak, something broke through for me. There’s an authenticity and raw energy on it that is compelling and connected with me on a visceral level. While it’s a little dumb, one of the inclusion criteria for the best 1,000 albums ever is an album that demands to be included. And 808s and Heartbreak does*.
*Interestingly, this is one of the rare times I’ve seen Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums rankings (#244 out of 500) and All Music’s rating (a paltry 2.5 out of 5 stars) clash so intensely.
“Heartless” is arguably one of the most popular songs produced by Kanye – it has more than 457 million plays on Spotify and counting, at any rate – and there’s a reason why. I really like how stripped down the production is, allowing Kanye’s raw emotion to pour through.
“Amazing,” produced with Jeezy, doubles down on this dynamic and is easily my favorite song on the album.
And lyrically, Kanye’s typical bombastic and ego-maniacal style is revealingly inverted, which I find rather fascinating.
I’m a monster, I’m a killer
I know I’m wrong, yeah
I’m a problem
That’ll never ever be solved
I tried to find out more about the meaning behind “Amazing,” but all I came up with was, “West described this collaboration with Young Jeezy as “pop and hood mixed together.”
“Paranoid,” a collaboration with Mr Hudson, is a fun track that moves with a seeming effortlessness and pop and dance sensibility that you almost never see on albums produced by Kanye after this point.
Personal stuff that has something to do with Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak
There are a number of massively successful artists that were never necessarily my favorites that I wanted to make sure I gave plenty of attention to with an open mind while doing research for the best 1,000 albums ever project.
Some are hugely popular Top 40 artists producing music that’s not really made for my demographic, age, or typical musical tastes at all. And in some cases, I was delightfully surprised by how much I liked some of it, and you’ll find a not tiny number of those albums on the list. Is a Britney Spears album on this list, for example? Yes, and well deserved at that.
Bruce Springsteen is an artist I’ve never really disliked while never actively liking much of any of his output either. “Dancing in the Dark” is decent, and it’s fun that a young Courteney Cox is in the video and all that, but it never went much further than that for me.
But since he’s revered by so many – including by many serious fans of music – I wanted to give Springsteen’s music its full due diligence for potential inclusion on the list. And… it just never got there for me. I was frankly bored by much of it, in all honesty. That’s the wild and wacky thing about music, really – it’s just so damned subjective.
If you’re reading this and saying, “You included Britney Spears and not Bruce Springsteen on your weirdo list? You need to Stop. This. Madness. This. Instant…” I get it. I do. That’s just where things landed for me.
And my hope as ever is that if you’re a fan of music and you follow along on this journey, that you’ll maybe get exposed to some music that turns you on that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, or perhaps think about music in a slightly different way.
I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself and about music during this process, and if you learn a little something yourself, I’ve done my job and I’m well happy about it at that.
Some stats & info about Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreak
- What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Rap, Hip Hop, Dance Music, Pop Music
- Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – #244
- All Music’s rating – 2.5 out of 5 stars
- When was 808s and Heartbreak released? 2008
- My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #884 out of 1,000
Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak on Spotify
What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?
Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.
But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective take on what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.